[OPE-L:1948] Re: Is 'Value, Price and Profit' a Theory of "Increasing Misery" by Marx?

Ajit Sinha (ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in)
Sun, 19 Dec 1999 19:51:17 +0530

Paul Zarembka wrote:

> It has been asserted on this list that Marx's "Value, Price and Profit"
> (VPP) is the key theoretical support for Marx having an "increasing
> misery" theory. That text represents a lecture to the International
> Working Men's Association in June 1865, responding to John Weston of the
> Association concerning the role of trade unions. The social context
> described by Marx is:
> "There reigns now on the Continent a real epidemic of strikes, and a
> general clamour for a rise of wages" (p. 5, Progress Publishers, Moscow,
> 1947). {Lapides provides much more elaboration of the context, pp.
> 167-173.}
> Marx opposes unions abdicating on the wage issue and concludes some fifty
> pages later with the following:
> "I shall conclude by proposing the following resolutions:
> "Firstly, A general rise in the rate of wages would result in a fall
> of the general rate of profit, but, broadly speaking, not affect the
> prices of commodities.
> "Secondly, The general tendency of capitalist production is not to
> raise, but to sink the average standard of wages.
> "Thirdly, Trades Unions work well as centres of resistance against the
> encroachments of capital. They fail partially from an injudicious use of
> their power. They fail generally from limiting themselves to a guerilla
> war against the effects of the existing system, instead of simultaneously
> trying to change it, instead of using their organized forces as a lever
> for the final emancipation of the working class, that is to say, the
> ultimate abolition of the wages system." (Section XIV, p. 55)
> ______________________________________________
> There is a lot of very interesting material between pages 5 and 55 of
> VPP and I'll try to quote what seems most germane and make some comments.
> [In { } brackets are references to Sinha/Lapides which may be passed over
> for those so inclined.] Anyone reading this can skip to the CONCLUSION.
> 1. "The *will* of the capitalist is certainly to take as much as
> possible. What we have to do is not to talk about his *will*, but to
> inquire into his *power*, the *limits of that power*, and the *character
> of those limits*." (Section I, pp. 7-8, italics indicated by *).
> That is, while the capitalist doesn't give a damn about workers beyond
> their survival in a condition to be exploited, capital is not all
> powerful.
> 2. "The general rise in the rate of wages [theoretically considered]
> would, therefore, after a temporary disturbance of market prices, only
> result in a general fall of the rate of profit without any permanent
> change in the prices of commodities" (II, p. 11).
> Marx is arguing that if wages rise, profits fall (opposing what we
> would now call a wage-push theory of inflation and stable real wages).
> 3. "I propose calling your attention to the real rise of wages that took
> place in Great Britain from 1849 to 1859....What was the result [of the
> Ten Hours Bill]? A rise in the money wages of the factory operatives,
> despite the curtaining of the working day, a great increase in the number
> of factory hands employed, a continuous fall in the prices of their
> products, a marvelous development in the productive powers of their labor,
> an unheard-of progressive expansion of the markets for their
> commodities.... [Thus,] official propounders of economic science had been
> wrong, while the instinct of the people had been right" (II, p. 12-13).
> {Cf. Sinha's claim in his draft book review of Lapides that in Capital
> Vol. I "the whole of section 5 of chapter 25 (68 pages in total) is
> devoted to documenting a declining tendency of real wages in England (for
> the period 1846-66) and Ireland (for the period 1860-65)" (OPE # 1112)
> If Marx had indeed documented in Capital a 'declining tendency' in
> wages for the period 1846-66 we would have Marx contradicting himself from
> VPP. Actually, Marx's section 5, subsection (a.) "England from 1846-1866"
> has only two references to wages and both are imbedded in quotes of
> others. The Irish time period is too short to bother with.}
> 4. "Supply and demand regulate nothing but the temporary *fluctuations*
> of market prices.... [T]hey can never account for that *value* itself....
> The same holds true of wages and of the prices of all other commodities"
> (IV, p. 21).
> Marx is here setting up the question of what does determine the value
> of labor power and of wages.
> 5. "*Price*, taken by itself, is nothing but the *monetary expression of
> value*" (VI, p. 29) and "all descriptions of commodities are, on the
> average, sold at their respective *values* or natural prices" (p. 31).
> "[T]he *value of laboring power* is determined by the *value of the
> necessities* required to produce, develop, maintain, and perpetuate the
> laboring power" (VII, p. 34).
> What is actually included in "necessities" by Marx is not clearly
> elaborated, unfortunately for our discussion, but logical in Marx's
> limited context ("I cannot promise to [develop the question] in a very
> satisfactory way, because to do so I should be obliged to go over the
> whole field of political economy. I can, as the French would say, but
> effleurer la question, touch upon the main points"--VI, p. 24.)
> 6. "By virtue of the increased productivity of labor, the same amount of
> the average daily necessaries might sink from three to two shillings, or
> only four hours out of the working day, instead of six, be wanted to
> reproduce an equivalent for the value of daily necessities. The working
> man would now be able to buy with two shillings as many necessaries as he
> did before with those three shillings. Indeed, the *value of labor
> [power]* would have sunk, but that diminished value would command the same
> amount of commodities as before....Although the laborer's absolute
> standard of life would have remained the same, his *relative* wages, and
> therewith his *relative social position*, as compared with that of the
> capitalist, would have been lowered. If the working man should resist
> that reduction of relative wages, he would only try to get some share of
> the increased productive powers of this own labor, and to maintain his
> former relative position in the social scale" (XIII, "Main cases of
> attempts at raising wages or resisting their fall", pp. 44-45)
> "In all the cases I have considered, and they form ninety-nine out of a
> hundred, you have seen that a struggle for a rise of wages follows only in
> the track of *previous* changes,...in one word, as reactions of labor
> against the previous action of capital" (p. 49).
> The "will" of capital is limited by the reactions of labor.
> 7. "[T]he question now ultimately arises, how far, in this incessant
> struggle between capital and labor, the latter is likely to prove
> successful.... But there are some peculiar features which distinguish the
> *value of the laboring power*...from the value of all other commodities.
> The value of the laboring power is formed by two elements--the one merely
> physical, the other historical or social" (XIV, p. 50).
> "Profits [orwages] is only settled by the continuous struggle between
> capital and labor, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to
> their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical
> maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite
> direction. The matter resolves itself into a question of the respective
> powers of the combatants." (pp. 51-52).
> To this point there is NO HINT OF AN INCREASING MISERY doctrine. We
> are down to the last three pages.
> 8. After mentioning the United States where capital "cannot prevent the
> labor market from being continuously emptied by the continuous conversion
> of wage laborers into independent, self-sustaining peasants" (XIV, p. 52),
> Marx turns to the older capitalist countries. He notes the substitution
> of machinery for labor power as a means of undermining the gains labor has
> made against capital (recall his empirical comments about England in
> 1849-1859). He notes that accumulation of capital is also being
> accelerated which he says implies a rise of the composition of capital [I
> have to record my own reservation regarding how Marx might be defining or
> failing to define "accumulation of capital." P.Z.]. And Marx notes that
> "the demand for labor [power] keeps ... no pace with accumulation of
> capital, [although the demand for labor power] will still increase" (p.
> 54).
> {Sinha's main criticism of Lapides' book in his draft review is that
> Lapides does not factor technical change and unemployment into an overall
> conditioning of the wage determination issue. But note that Marx says
> that the demand for labor power is increasing, leading at least this
> writer to wonder about increasing unemployment.}
> "These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of modern
> industry must progressively turn the scale in favor of the capitalist
> against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of
> capitalist production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of
> wages, or to push the *value of labor [power]* more or less to its
> *minimum limit*. Such being the tendency of *things* in this system, is
> this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance
> against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making
> the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If
> they did, they would be degraded to one level of mass of broken wretches
> past starvation.... By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with
> capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of
> any larger movement" (p. 54).
> The first sentence here is the only one to *possibly* describe an
> increasing misery but given the simultaneous reference to "standard of
> wages" OR "value of labor power"--which are NOT the same things, no firm
> conclusion can be drawn. The RELATIVE position of labor vis-a-vis capital
> turns against labor when v falls, but real wages could be either falling
> or still be increasing! Furthermore, Marx immediately goes on to say that
> workers must fight back the general tendency of capitalist production.
> Marx finalizes with a call for "abolition of the wages system!" (p.
> 55), and the summary at the top of this message.
> _____________________________________________
> CONCLUSION: If we were to broaden the definition of "increasing misery"
> to include increased insecurity of existence, increased penetration of
> non-capitalist system (from "accumulation of capital"), increased RELATIVE
> strength of capital over labor, many more Marxists would accept
> "increasing misery" as a PREDICTION of Marx's thought.
> But most persons think of the "increasing misery" concept as narrowly
> as the typical neoclassical definition of real wages (ignoring
> qualifications like "we can no longer speak of a rise or of a fall in the
> wage unless we specify the standard, for what is a rise in one standard
> may be a fall in another"--Sraffa, PRODUCTION OF COMMODITIES BY MEANS OF


Paul, I have very quickly read your comments above, and when i'll have some
time (may be in few months) then I'll respond to all your charges against my
reading with facts and figures and quotations. As far as your Sraffa quote is
concerned, it is simply irrelevant, because Sraffa is talking about 'money
wages', i.e. wages represented by the money commodity. We are here concerned
with real wages. There are various quotations above that you have quoted where
Marx is basically talking Ricardian theory and they are all in the static
context. So i detect a lot of confusion on your part about what is the issue

> And with that narrow concept, it is difficult to accept a remark such
> as (even distinguishing falling, from fixed, wages):
> "A quite different version of the iron law of wages was provided by
> Karl Marx. He put great emphasis upon the 'reserve army of the
> unemployed.'...This, Marx thought, would depress wages to the subsistence
> level." "[T]he basic Marxian conclusion" is that there is a "tendency for
> real wages rates to fall to a *minimum subsistence level*" (Paul
> Samuelson, ECONOMICS, 6th ed., section entitled "The Iron Law of Wages:
> Malthus and Marx", pp. 553 and 554).


Here Samuelson is right, and i think most of the serious historians of thought
would agree with him on the question of the trend in the real wages.

> {It is also difficult to accept a phrase "Marx's prediction of
> increasing misery of the working class"--whether or not it continues with
> "rests on the assumption that the rate of labor saving technical change
> combined with the rate of growth of population would be higher than the
> rate at which capital accumulation could absorb the labor force" (Sinha,
> draft review of Lapides' book, 9/5/99, OPE #1112.)}


On what ground you say that "it is difficult to accept" the above statement?
Do you think that Marx thought that there was a secular trend for the rate of
unemployment to fall over time?
Cheers, ajit sinha

> Paul Z.
> ***********************************************************************
> Paul Zarembka, supporting RESEARCH IN POLITICAL ECONOMY, web site
> ******************** http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/PZarembka

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